Saturday, January 24, 2009

Boredom drives couple into handicrafts

By Karen Lapitan
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 23:46:00 01/24/2009

Filed Under: Economy and Business and Finance

PAETE, Laguna—It was boredom that pushed a couple here to go into a business that they never thought would penetrate the international market.

Roberto Cabrera, 62, and wife Vilma, 60, decided to venture into handicraft in 1988, when they felt they were no longer happy managing their small retail. “It was too monotonous,” Vilma recalls of their life before. “We do the same things every day, so we thought of coming up with a new business.”

And so, Rhema-J Handicrafts was born. The trade name was culled from the names of their children: Rhea, Marry Ann and Jassed.

After a while, the name was changed to Cabrera’s Handicrafts.

Today, the company goes by the name R. Cabrera’s Gifts and Collection (RCGC), giving pride to locally made products by invading the global market.


With a starting capital of P3,000, the couple hired three production workers and turned their house’s terrace into a workplace.

“What we had then was only a 10-square meter space for the production,” Vilma said.

Initially, they made wooden pendants for a native necklace business of a client who was into export. This client ordered P20,000 worth of products after the couple showed samples of their designs.

That presented a production problem for them, having only P3,000 with which to deliver on a huge initial order.

But the couple did not want to borrow.

“We wanted to expand our business on our own,” Vilma told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

At the time, they did not have their own equipment. Even the packaging of their initial products was simple.

“My husband would just improvise,” Vilma said. “Boxes of cigarettes served as our main packaging material [for our finished products].”

To resolve their problem, they asked for a down payment to buy the raw materials.

After the initial bulk order, other customers went directly to their small office to inquire about their other products.

“We did not have a defined marketing strategy then,” Vilma said. “The clients were the ones who would ask us about our products.”

Apart from wooden pendants, they also made indigenous home decors, paper-based products, event souvenirs, kitchen wares and wooden signs.

More than the profit, the couple stressed that the quality of the products and the integrity of the owners matter most.

“At first, it may look strange that we had to turn down some business deals,” Vilma explained. “But we knew our capacity and we did not want to put our ... credibility at risk.”

Before making a deal, RCGC management ensures that their employees will have ample time to work on the order. They also try to make sure that each product is of high quality.

Continued growth

Ten years after its establishment, RCGC has a firm foothold in the local market.

At first, they introduced overruns to buyers interested in their products.

The local buyers were impressed with the quality and designs of the products, Vilma said.

This additional demand for their products prompted them to open a store in Paete, Laguna.

The terrace that served as their work place was replaced by a larger work area for the production of handicraft and gift items.

“Production [entailed] up to 50,000 pieces of decorative items and other products,” Vilma explained, adding that she and her husband also derived great satisfaction in providing job opportunities.

They now have 25 regular employees and at least 20 subcontract workers, depending on the orders from clients.

In 2001, they opened another store in Olivarez Plaza in Los BaƱos. This was followed by another in Market! Market! in Taguig, which they named Kyosh Novelty Shop. The couple’s daughter, Rhea, now manages the shop.

After two years, they opened their third store in Phase 2 of Market! Market!

Now, R. Cabrera Gifts and Collections indirectly exports products to Singapore, Europe and North America through their distributors and buyers.

Vilma said they were also planning to open another branch in Metro Manila.


The P3,000 in capital and the 10-sq. m. workplace have taken them far.

Vilma said they were thankful for the success of their business, which they also attributed to their workers.

The first artist that they hired when they started more than 20 years ago is still with them.

“It really feels good to know that we have loyal and efficient workers with us,” Vilma said, recalling how some of their other workers became successful later in life.

She added that they do not really treat their workers as mere employees but as family.

“We even eat the same dishes during meals,” Vilma said.

Aside from seeing to the welfare of their workers, the couple is also into charity work, which they claim is their way of sharing with others the success they now enjoy.

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